When those laughable kitchen tools have a purpose

Guest post by Dina

Avocado slicerWhen I was growing up, my mother trusted me with knives. I remember being allowed to cut mushrooms (my faaaavorite!) with a paring knife when I was five. As an adult, one thing I do (mostly) well in the kitchen is cutting stuff. I know my way around a chef’s knife pretty darn well, if I say so myself.

The other half and I have long made a game of ridiculing silly kitchen tools we see at the shopping mall. My favorite is the thing you use to cut avocados — you still have to cut the avocado in half with a knife to use it.

The thing about most of those tools is they take more work than actually getting out the stupid knife and just cutting the damn produce, especially when you take cleaning into account. Why use something specialized when a simple solution exists that you can use for many things?

Refrigerator Pickles - Slicing Onions

But recently, the other half decided she wanted to buy a mandoline. After a brief discussion in the cooking store about whether or not this was a good idea, we bought it. I doubted very much it would actually get used.

And I was partly right, because aside from slicing a fennel bulb, I haven’t used it at all. My other half, however, has used it a lot. She uses it to cut vegetables for soup, to chop onions (“This way I don’t have to cry over them!”) — you name it.

This whole experience made me rethink my philosophy. I’ve come to realize that if it takes a mandoline to make someone excited to cook, well… why not? It reminds me of something I once saw in my brother’s Middle Eastern cookbook. According to this book, a food processor was a vital tool for making Middle Eastern food. The author said that, yes, you could make just about anything in the book with a mortar and pestle or what-have-you, but if people in Egypt a thousand years ago had food processors, you’d better believe they would have used them!

So I guess I’ll give my other half a free pass with the mandoline, so long as she doesn’t make me use it. But I’ll still laugh at you if you have a device that only cuts avocados.

Comments on When those laughable kitchen tools have a purpose

  1. Alton Brown has a philosophy that you don’t bring one-trick ponies into the kitchen. Objects that have one highly specific purpose that can only be used to accomplish one task are not allowed. I approve fully of this notion.

    • Me too. I keep telling my husband we don’t need these tools. We don’t even have space for them. But…this is why I love Dina’s post! I can totally understand their purpose now.

    • The only “unitasker” I own is a cherry pitter.
      NOTHING else does the job right…a potato peeler, or a knife don’t leave the cherries whole and pretty, and messed up my presentation when I make cherry pies, or brandied cherries.

      Other than that…I whole-heartily agree with not clogging up the kitchen with things that only do one job.

    • I agree with dootsiebug that uni-taskers are a no-no, but I make exceptions for when there’s an item that is used a lot. If you eat a ton of avacados, I won’t begrudge you the avacado cutter. If you frequently brew your own beer, get the mash tun and bottle capper.

      But if you make ice cream or jam every other year, you may want to reconsider an ice cream maker or pressure canner (respectively).

      • And the thing about ice cream makers–they often take up space in your freezer AND your counters/cupboards. You have no idea how much time I spent grumbling about poking around the drum in my freezer. But I just HAD to keep it in there because gosh, it needs to freeze 24 hours before I make ice cream and you just NEVER KNOW when I’ll make it! (Answer: about twice a year.)
        I’ll agree–if a tool is going to save you a significant amount of time and you’re really, really legitimately going to use it, then gopher it. By the same token, a tool could slice, dice, chop, blend, puree and smash, but if you’re not going to use it, it may as well be a really expensive, really huge paperweight.

    • My only objection to Alton’s “Unitasker” philosophy is my rice cooker. I use that sucker ALL THE TIME. It has made dinner on the run so much easier. Pop in the rice (and often sausage or marinated cubed chicken too)and hit the button. Chase kids until it beeps. Sit and eat.

      • I cook my rice in the microwave. Put the rice, water, and a bit of salt in an large casserole dish. Cook on high for about 5 minutes, then at 50 percent power for 15 minutes. Done!

        You need a larger dish because the water will boil up and out if there isn’t enough head space. Also, when I had a low power microwave, I cooked it on high for 6 minutes, and at 60 percent for 15 min., so tweek it if needed.

      • Once when I still lived at my mom’s house, the oven exploded and we had nothing to cook with till we got a new one.
        For 2 weeks I made us (healthy and complete) meals using only the rice cooker, and they came out great!
        Definitely not a unitasker 😛

  2. Recently my wife and I were in one of those fancy kitchen gadget stores and my favorite unnecessary item was a strawberry stem remover. It had little claws to dig out the stem! Totally unnecessary, but funny!

    • I got one of these at my bridal shower, and oh how I (internally!) rolled my eyes. I’m always getting things like that because people remember “oh, she cooks!” I was going to return it, but my husband took off the tag and washed it, so I left it in the drawer out of laziness until the next time I needed to clean and freeze several pints of strawberries.

      That thing is AWESOME! I felt like a strawberry disemboweling WIZARD. I have a twinge of gadget guilt because it’s such a unitasker, but it’s so small and so much less brain investment than doing it with a paring knife.

        • I actually worked at a pizza restaurant where the servers (like me) were also in charge of assembling salads. Both we and the chefs used these little gadgets constantly to take the stems off beafeater tomatoes. I LOVED them, and it cut down on prep time considerably.

          Obviously, this is in the context of a high-volume restaurant, but if I were doing a lot of canning, salad-preparing, or tomato sauce-making at home, I would be totally down for one of those gadgets. I think that if a gadget is used on a semi-regular basis, is cheap, and makes your life even a little bit easier, it can be totally worth it. Example? All throughout college and high school, my favorite kitchen utensil was the apple corer. Yeah, I can core an apple with a knife, but I simply enjoyed using it.

          • We’ve got an apple corer that also cuts it into slices. If it weren’t so damn hard to get it through the apple (it’s old, that’s probably the reason why), I’d never touch an apple with a knife again!

      • I have one of these! I love it for strawberries–super fast when I want to make something with a lot of them. But mostly, I use it for tomatoes. I use tomatoes in about 80% of the food that I make, so it gets used a LOT!

  3. There’s a fantastic clip of a British chef called Rick Stein extolling the virtues of the mandolin. Alas, the BBC haven’t put it on YouTube but he basically says “Now here’s a really useful item, these Japanese mandolin cutters *look* dangerous, but they’re fine so long as you ARRRRRGGGHHHHHH!!!”. The next shot is of him wrapping his hand in blue bandaids, whilst one of the sous chefs loudly throws the mandolin into the dumpster outside. My theory is that if one of the countries best chefs can’t use it without losing several finger tips, there’s no way I’d ever risk it.

    I have a little plastic doohickey for opening ring pull cans but my favorite kitchen utensil has to be a hammer. Want to mash the garlic? Hammer. Need to break up this chocolate? Hammer. Need to grind these spices? Meh, just use the hammer.

    • That’s because a lot of chefs think they’re 2 cool 4 school and throw away the safetly mechanism designed to protect your hand that comes attached to the mandolin.

    • Need crushed ice? Hammer. Need to juice fruit? Hammer. Person constantly getting under your feet while you’re trying to cook? HAMMER.

      My house comes from the “hit it with a hammer and/or yell at it til it works right” school of life.

    • Rick Stein owns a restaurant near where I live – which segues well into the fact that I can cut myself just looking at a knife (I cut myself opening the shower last night!!!) but I use my mandolin ALL THE FREAKING TIME! I love it!

    • Heh. Mine tried that, until I informed him that either I got one, or he didn’t get my apple-raspberry crisp more than once a year. (Seeing as an 8×8 pan doesn’t last 24 hours, this was a good threat. It’s just about his favorite thing that I make.) There’s just no way I’m hand-peeling that many apples. Needless to say, I now have one, and it is the BEST thing ever. (I’m not one to be squeamish about culinary blackmail. 😉 )

    • I wanted one of those for SO LONG it wasn’t even funny (pretty much since the first time i decided homemade apple butter from whole apples was a good idea) and I finally got one at my bridal shower last week. I am so stupidly excited about it, but honestly peeling is probably my Least Favorite Thing and I can never get an apple to core properly.

    • It is hands down the greatest invention ever come apple season.
      Plus, like said before curly potatoes are amazing! Cook them in the oven with a little bit of butter, bacon bits, and some cheese and it’s quite possibly the greatest snack ever

    • I have one I picked up at a thrift store. Either I am not using it right, or it is the biggest rip-off gadget ever. Unless the apple is perfect, it skips sections, cores unevenly, and is an all-around general PITA to use. I went back to a paring knife for apples and pears.

      • Coring unevenly happens because the apple is not perfectly even always.I find it’s a lot easier to clean the little bit of core edge that’s left over than to core my own apples by hand. the peeling, if it’s skipping spots it’s probably adjusted for a bigger apple, there should be a wingnut next to the peeler, that you can loosen so you can slide the peeler part closer or further away. Also, soft apples can gum it up a little so you have to wipe it after each apple a little.
        I found it to be a big help, but I’m really terrible at doing it by hand.

  4. I have a garlic squisher and one of those little egg slicers. And I love both. I don’t use them too often but they both make me happy.

        • This! My grandmother had one, and it was my favorite toy at her house! My sister and I would eat our eggs, and then pretend it was a harp and we were either angels or in a symphony. She also had an asparagus-cooker, and a hamburger-patty press. The latter was also fun to play with…

      • Same here! As well as the apple slicer that divided an apple into perfect pieces! I would want apples and hard boiled eggs just so I could use the tools. 😛

    • You can also, in addition to eggs and mushrooms, use the egg slicer for any small, soft food that you want to cut into uniform slices. I’ve also used mine for strawberries as well as small balls of mozzarella that were marinated in oil–too greasy to slice by hand, handled perfectly in the egg slicer.

    • If you make gingerbread people during the holidays, the garlic squishier is great for making hair and beards! I loved using it for this as a kid.

  5. I have a garlic press too! I love it, but then we use garlic almost daily so it does get used. Everything else is a multi-tasker – although we’re currently considering an ice-cream maker at the moment…

    • I have a garlic press, but I confess that often I just chop the garlic (even though, supposedly, it will make the garlic bitter) because it’s such a pain to get all of the garlic guts back out of the press when you wash–even if you wash it right away after pressing.

      I just bought my brother-in-law an ice cream maker and he was ecstatic! Both he and my sister are totally thrilled about being able to make ice cream with it, but then, again, they are gadget-crazy. She used to work in a kitchen gadget store and would buy all sorts of strange tools for us. I think the one thing she gave me was a dumpling-making tool but I’m not sure even how to use it. I also have a shrimp-deveiner that I’ll probably never use.

      • I own a garlic press, and it gets used at least 5 times a week.

        BUT: it can double as well. My mom had one too, but never used it, except for letting us play with it when we were playing with dough or clay. It makes great ‘hair’! Or grass. Or spaghetti to play with. In fact, it was late in my teens when I discovered that that tool was actually meant to be a garlic press!

        Plus, in defence of the garlic press: pressed garlic really tastes different from cut garlic!

  6. I have definitely always made fun of silly kitchen gadgets. …Until I discovered mango splitters, and now I feel as if I DESPERATELY need one. (We’ll see if I’m ever actually willing to pay $12 for one, though)

  7. We’ve got a garlic peeler from Williams-Sonoma that is AWESOME. Hubs makes his own teriykai sauce during the summer, and other fancy grilling sauces/rubs, so we use a decent amount of garlic. It works really, really well, and I love it. It’s one of the few tools that’s only for one or two specific things, but soooo worth it.

    • I have never understood how to use these, but I recently saw a garlic grater thingie that peels and grates the garlic all at the same time! I hate the smell of garlic fingers so I was very tempted!

  8. I wound up in a uni-tasker gift war with a friend after he made fun of me for wanting a mango pitter (which actually is a non-tasker, it barely works and is useless on Manila mangos). The ones I found were from the Japanese dollar store, a chestnut peeler, scallion slicer, many different hard boiled egg slicers. The war has ended, and I now posses a microwave s’mores maker and 2 corn butterers with matching corn holders. And now I cut my mangos with a knife most of the time.

  9. The “one-trick pony” tools I’ll never understand are the Strawberry Huller, Banana Slicer and Strawberry Slicer. Hulling a strawberry is pretty unneccessary in everyday cooking (in my opinion), and a knife will slice a strawberry or banana just as easily.

    “One trick pony” tools I do love? The Garlic Press!! Anyone who says they aren’t useful as hell is crazy! All those recipes that ask for diced, crushed or finely chopped garlic? Effin’ press that bitch! Love it. I also do love my Dual Apple Core/Slicer. I was adamant about not getting one, but my husband desperately wanted it…so for $5 I figured “what the hell”. Let me tell you, it makes making apple pie and apple crisp about 2x or 3x as fast.

    I do want a mandolin so BAAAAD! I cannot julienne veggies for the life of me, nor can I do paper-thin slices. A mandolin would make some of my cooking so much easier…and less dangerous. I don’t know how many times I’ve cut myself attempting to do a fine julienne on a carrot or paper-thin slices on a potato.

    • I am in love with my garlic press! I have one with a slicey bit on it, too, so I can get perfect slivers of garlic just as easily. It totally makes sense for me to have a one trick pony like it as well because I probably use it for 90% of dinners I make!

    • A banana slicer? I had to google this. I’m sure people who do a lot of high-volume banana slicing may find it useful, but you can slice a banana with a butter knife. I think this banana slicer is the most useless tool thus far.

  10. I shamelessly love my mandolin. I don’t use it often, but when we’re in full blown soup mode in the winter it’s on! And the garlic press is a uni-tool that I can’t live without, along with the apple corer/peeler/slicer as mentioned above. Makes applesauce and apple butter time so nice!

  11. When it comes to uni-tools, I also love the garlic press. And in the fall, when I am chopping dozens of apples for numerous treats, I would not be without uni-tool apple corer/slicer.

    Two other uni-gadgets I love: my banana tree (nothing ripens bananas faster) and my rice cooker.

    Most worthless uni-gadget I’ve got: an egg separator, used once then forgotten. I quickly learned that nothing works better than your hands when it comes to separating eggs.

    • Love my rice cooker! (or, loved it, until husband o’ mine left it on the stove and turned said stove on, melting its base to a gloopy mass). Besides rice, its great for cooking quinoa, heating up any liquids (soup, sauce, etc.) and you can even make pasta in it (when you’re too lazy to wash out a pot). I’ve even used it for hot chocolate. Good for cooking things when you’re not paying close attention!

    • I have a garlic zoom and I love it!! The more you zoom the car the smaller it chops the garlic. I use garlic pretty much everyday so for me it’s an essential. I imagine you could also use it for chopping chillis and ginger too.

  12. Another anti-unitasker here, mostly because I have too much stuff, and am trying desperately to not allow more into my house. I secretly want to try the garlic zoom and the avocado one, but could never actually bring myself to purchace them. I do have a garlic press, but usually just squash and chop the garlic with a knife. Also, I was just given a mandoline slicer as a gift, and while I was really excited about it, we used it once – and can’t think of why I’d use it again. Cleaning a knife and chopping board is so much simpler, and I really don’t mind chopping stuff by hand…

  13. Last week I bought a “Microplane” box grater in a department store but after reading the following Amazon review and being naturally clumsy in the kitchen I’m now petrified to use it.

    “and I face plastic surgery to repair the severed nerve endings the grater grated off of my thumb” Amazon.com very Eeeeek !!!negative review

    I have a top of the range mandolin (also still in box) that i’m also a bit afraid to use.

    I might have to invest in one of them butchery type gloves to overcome this fear.

    The best gaget investment I bought was a glass citrus juicer for a euro in a charity shop, this was after I invested over 150 Euro in a top of the range, very hard to clean and takes over over half my counter top juicer. Incidentally I gave the expensive juicer to the charity shop and they were delighted, think I may be giving them a mandolin soon too !

    • Fear not the mandolin. Just remember to USE THE HAND GUARD!!!!! And be careful when cleaning it. Knock on wood, I’ve never cut myself on the mandolin, but my husband has. He didn’t seem to think the hand guard was important. Nor did he find it necessary to pay attention to what he was doing. He didn’t lose a finger over it or anything though.

  14. P.s. Oprah had a clear clutter programme in which it was suggested that you empty your kitchen drawer of all small gagets and then put them into a large box.

    Then as you use them you are allowed to return them to your drawer. Any that are not returned to the drawer after 6 months should be recycled.

    Don’t think I’m that brave, I like holding onto useless crap, just in case I might have need of a melon baller and a gaget (still in box) that makes curly cucumbers – well you never know when an occasion might require curley cucumbers !!!


  15. I think the only unitasker we have is a smoothie maker, and that’s basically a blender with a tap on the front so it’s not really uni task. We have a very small kitchen so I try to limit the number of gadgets.

    I was suprised at how quickly we got to use the food processor that came with our electric mixer through. I’d never used one before, never even seen it used (unless Sims counts?) and wasn’t really sure what to do with it. But then one of the first recipies I picked out of a new cook book (can you tell we got married recently?) required it.

    Sure I could have used the mortar and pestle instead, but I imagine grining lemon grass and onion into paste by hand would be a bitch.

    • You just made my day with your comment about the Sims and a food processor!!! I am laughing really hard now. (And am right there with you, never seen a food processor in action – or, now I think of it, maybe my grandma used it to process fresh produce from their land)

  16. One of the gadgets that I LOVE is the one that cuts vegetables into small (and now I can’t think of the word, ehm square bits)/ have a sieve knive. Like so:

    My mother has that one, I have one where the box is underneath (this one you open and close and the knives press down on the veggies from above and they end up in the container) but the principle is the same. They have different insets that allow you to cut thick or thin bits.

    It’s definitely not a unitasker. I use it for carrots, zucchini (I have a great recipe for salad that is SO much easeir when i just have to cut 4 zucchini into about 6 bits each and then run them throug the thing and get bits about 2 inches long and about the thickness of a thin pencil and it takes a minute. I shudder to imagine all that shopping done by hand, and I ENJOY chopping usually.), ONIONS!, kohlrabi, walnuts, and many other things.
    I don’t get it out when there’s just one thing to chop, but as I have a tendency to cook in amounts that could feed at least 6 people (I live alone, which is why I have a freezer) there are usually many things to chop.

  17. Those egg/apple/avocado slicer type things are the greatest thing ever to those of us with the OCD need to have all the slices as uniform as possible.
    Although I’m pretty good at getting them uniform with just a knife, it can be awfully slow doing it that way.

  18. Totally agree about the avocado slicer. When my friend and I were planning on moving into a place together and were shopping for kitchen stuff she BEGGED for an avocado slicer and a cheese slicer. We didn’t end up moving in together and now I’m stuck with them. Never use them, ever. Avocado slicers have now become my go-to joke housewarming present. On the other hand, I have a hand-held mandolin about the size of a cheese grater that I bought recently and I ADORE it.

    Useless cheese slicer: http://www.amazon.com/Calphalon-Dual-Edge-Cheese-Plane/dp/B000SDQGL6/ref=sr_1_6?ie=UTF8&qid=1312436416&sr=8-6

  19. Grapefruit spoon.

    I own two that my grandmother gave to me years ago and I LOVE them. I find it impossible to eat grapefruit without them.

    But you can use them for taking the insides out of tomatoes or the choke of an artichoke. I’ve also used them for Brie and roasted squash. AMAZING.

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